Category: Sermons

I have seen the Lord

Sermon Easter Day 2023
St Margaret’s West Hoathly

I wonder what you enjoy most about Easter Day? Apart from being here in Church this morning, of course! Is it the Easter Egg hunt, or the roast lamb you may be preparing? The people that will come to visit, or marking the end of Lent and returning to whatever it was you had given up?

What I love most doing on Easter morning is to go and see a sunrise somewhere. Not so much today, unfortunately, but anticipating this, I went up to the South Downs earlier this week – not quite the same, but still.

Although scientifically, what we see as a sunrise is in fact the earth spinning around its own axis with about 1000 miles/hour, there is a real stillness and anticipation in that moment just before dawn. In the stillness, in the waiting, it feels like something is happening. And then, just as the sun appears deep red above the horizon, I know that something has changed, and at this moment I come closest to sensing the freedom that lies in being fully known and loved. 

The Easter story is one of transformation. As I mentioned on Maundy Thursday, it is a journey from oppression to freedom: the oppression of sin and death to the freedom of life in Christ, a life in God’s love. And if we are to take the story seriously, we realise that each year, we are on that journey too. We too are part of the story that seemed to end on Good Friday, but we now realise continues in us today.

This morning in our Gospel reading, we hear the account of Mary standing weeping outside the empty tomb on the first Easter morning. It is one of the most intimate encounters in the Bible, and I wonder if it is how we might experience our most intimate moments with God too? 

As Mary is standing beside the empty tomb, I wonder what it is that she mourns? Of course, the loss of a dear friend, someone in whom everyone could see the good, if only they took the time to look.

Maybe also she mourns a loss of faith in the people around her? Whether it was the crowds, the authorities, the disciples or she herself, ultimately everyone had some part to play in Jesus’ life ending on the cross. But maybe her tears are ultimately because in this moment, in every way, she has lost her Lord. She has lost her faith in a God who can let something like this happen, and Jesus’ own promise that things would be different with him.

Maybe that is what Mary means when she responds to the angels who ask her why she weeps: ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’. Jesus, her friend, her Lord, the one she trusted is gone; and with that the foundation of who she believed she was: she, his friend, his companion for life and beyond. ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’.

It is a feeling that I suspect some of us might recognise. That at times in our lives, we may have asked the same question. If this was the God in whom I believed, surely it cannot be thus? In the light of immense suffering, untimely death or when life overwhelms us. ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’.

After her question to the angels, which remains unanswered, Mary turns around. Once more, is addressed by the same question ‘Why are you weeping?’ And now, her answer is more direct: ‘if you have taken him away, tell me, and I will take him’. Although she doesn’t know it yet, this time her question is a cry to God, to Jesus himself. ‘If you are the one who has done this, tell me, and I will go and find him again.’

It is at this point that everything changes. And it only takes one word: ‘Mary’. Suddenly, through her grief, her questions and her desperation, Mary hears her own name in that familiar voice, and immediately she knows: here is Jesus. Here is the one who knows her by name, who knows her even better than she knows herself. And it is in that recognition that she replies: ‘Rabbouni’, teacher. She has seen the Lord.

Through this exchange, made of only two words, we realise that the Easter story is different from any other story, a story with a beginning but no end: this is the story of the God who will never stop loving us, the God who himself bore the cost of our freedom, and the God who will come and find us.

For some moments, Mary and the early disciples thought that they had lost Jesus, that their understanding of who they believed him to be, and of who they believed themselves to be, had come to an end on the cross. But now, this morning, everything is transformed, because Jesus is risen and is there, ready to meet them, and to continue to love them.

Their pain is transformed into joy, their questions into a deeper understanding, and God’s silence into a new and greater awareness of his love and presence. Their journey through Good Friday and Jesus’ journey through death, have left their marks, as we still see in the wounds in Jesus’ hands and body. 

And so we see that Resurrection is not a return to life before, but an arrival at life transformed. As we journey through life, we also will find ourselves marked and scarred, but today we celebrate that we can have confidence that we too will arrive transformed, finding our freedom in Christ. That we also will hear God speaking our name and that with Mary, we too will come to be able to say ‘I have seen the Lord’.

That is what we will do in a moment, when we will renew the vows made at our Baptism: we remember and celebrate that we too are called by name, and made God’s own. That even – and maybe especially – in those moments when we cannot see through our tears, when our faith seems absent, the risen Christ will come and find us. It is then that we realise that there has never been a time and there will never be a time when his love for us will end. 

That is what is means when this morning we proclaim once more: Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

The journey to freedom

Sermon St Margaret’s West Hoathly
Maundy Thursday 6 April 2023
Exodus 12.1-14, 1 Corinthians 11.23-36, John 13.1-17, 31b-35

I wonder how far along you are with your Easter preparations? Is there still some planning or shopping to be done, or is everything ready to go? One of the real joys of the Easter weekend is the ability to host or visit family and friends, as not only the schools have broken up, but also for most people it is a four-day weekend. There is something hugely powerful about gathering around the table for a shared meal, and I suspect that this has been the case throughout the generations in virtually every culture. 

Jesus and his disciples have arrived in Jerusalem to do the same. They have gathered to celebrate the Passover, one of the most important Jewish festivals. We hear about the origins of the festival in our reading from Exodus. For the Jewish people, the Passover is the time to remember how God struck the land of Egypt, their oppressors, to force Pharaoh’s hand to give the people back their freedom.

For Christian people too, the celebration of Easter is one of freedom from oppression: freedom from the oppression of sin and death. For the Jewish people, on the night of the Passover, their journey into freedom begun. It was a journey that would take them forty years. Although for us Easter is only three days away, if we are to take the story seriously, we too have a journey to make before we can be ready.

What is true for the entirety of the Gospel story, is particularly true for the last few days of Jesus’ life on earth: it is a story that is about us. It is too easy to think that it was Judas who betrayed Jesus, Peter who denied Him, and the Romans who crucified Him. Instead, we need to ask ourselves the question: when did we betray, deny and crucify Jesus?

Trying to answer that question honestly and truthfully is possibly one of the hardest challenges in the Christian life, as it confronts us with our weakness, with the wrong decisions we have made, knowingly and unknowingly, and we might feel utterly unlovable, trapped in a situation of our own making.

I wonder if this is what Judas felt as soon as he knew that he was going to betray Jesus? After his conversations with the authorities, did he feel that there was no way back? And after that faithful kiss, Judas assumed that he was beyond redemption and could no longer live with himself; for him, he felt there was no hope, no way in which he could be free ever again.

Maybe we too know of people who feel like this, who feel that they are beyond redemption? People who have given up on themselves and assume that others will do the same, that indeed God will give up on them too. People who end up in a spiral of self-destruction because they cannot live with what they have done.

For Peter, it was different. Maybe, one could argue that his sin of denial wasn’t as great as Judas’ sin of betrayal. But I don’t think that this was the essential difference between the two of them. I wonder if the greatest difference between Judas and Peter is that Peter could somehow still believe in Jesus’ love for him. That no matter how often he got things wrong, he was able to let Jesus love him, wash his feet, and ultimately forgive him.

For each of us, that is our journey from slavery to freedom. A lifelong journey, but each year particularly acute on these most holy days. It is a journey towards a greater trust in God’s love for us, and with that a greater awareness of our lacking love for him. Our freedom does not lie in always making the right decisions, but our true freedom lies in the knowledge of God’s never-failing love for us.

It is a journey that each of us will have to travel on our own: and each of these journeys will be unique. Yet, that doesn’t mean we have to travel alone. In the last hours of his life, Jesus gives his disciples, gives us a command. It is the reason why today is called Maundy Thursday, after the Latin ‘mandatum’ commandment. 

The commandment is this: that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. And if God’s love for us is hard to accept, so also is it hard to truly accept our love for one another. We see that tonight in our service: it is not easy to have your feet washed, and I have to admit that last year, when I was in the congregation, I did not. Because it makes us vulnerable, because by doing so we are making a statement: I trust you to love me. 

Whichever way we spend the next couple of days, whether it’s travelling or preparing to host; whether it’s in Church or at home, I would urge you to find some time away from any distractions and to take a few moments to place yourself in God’s presence. Maybe tonight in the Garden of Gethsemane, or tomorrow at the foot of the Cross. 

To bring ourselves into God’s presence. Our frail, vulnerable selves, in the presence of God’s infinite, unconditional love. And to watch and wait, together with the Church throughout the world, so that we too at the end of our journey, might find ourselves redeemed by the risen Christ. 

The example she set

Sermon Holy Trinity Hurstpierpoint 11 September 2022: Trinity 13
Psalm 51. 1-11 & Luke 15.1-10
Preached at a time of national mourning following the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II

For many of us, on our minds and in our hearts this morning is the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, and we continue to keep her family in our prayers as they grieve. We pray particularly for our King as in this time of mourning, he takes on the responsibilities of his office and duty.

Our late Queen was a person of deep personal faith, which she expressed on many public occasions. It inspired her leadership and life: a life of great devotion and commitment to the people she served. In this period of national mourning, there will be more specific times to remember, reflect and give thanks for her life.

To avoid saying what has been said or will be said, here, I would like to look at the Sunday readings, and specifically Psalm 51, as a reflection on our late Queen, on kingship, but at the same time as a reflection on how we model our own lives. Because one of the great truths of Christianity is, that when we celebrate a particular life well-lived, we do this in the knowledge that we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body. In the particular, we celebrate the universal.

We read in the introduction to Psalm 51 that it was written by King David. Almost half of the Psalms are attributed to David, and some of them, including this morning’s Psalm, refer to specific episodes in the king’s life. David is celebrated as one of the great Kings of Israel, both in the Jewish and Christian tradition. After Saul, he was the second king of Israel. He was the youngest son of Jesse, tasked with looking after the sheep. After his anointment by the prophet Samuel, he joined the court of King Saul to play the lyre. One of the most famous stories about David is his victory over Goliath, the Philistine – a well-loved Sunday School story.

However, his life was not just one of heroic acts and humble service, and this morning’s Psalm is testimony to that. The Psalm was written after the prophet Nathan had visited David, after the King had committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Not only that, to conceal his act, David had Uriah killed in battle, so that he could take Bathsheba, now a widow, as his lawful wife.

We read that the child born to David and Bathsheba dies after seven days, despite David’s pleas to God. However, and we may be surprised by this, after the period of mourning, they have another son, Solomon, who will succeed David as King and become known for his wisdom.

Listening to and looking at this story, we might feel it is not quite right to remember David as one of the great kings of Israel. And some might use this as a reason to criticise religion as it seems to condone and justify these kinds of behaviour. However, looking at Psalm 51 might give us an insight in what is really happening here, and the key words here are repentance and forgiveness.

The Psalm opens with David’s cry to God: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions”. These words both convey a sense of the King’s need for forgiveness, as well as God’s mercy and power to heal. 

When we look around us, particularly when we look at those in authority, we might feel that there are too many who don’t see that need for forgiveness. Who, instead of lamenting their deeds, try to justify their decisions and actions. But what happens when we look at ourselves? What is our deepest prayer when we reflect on those things we have done wrong?

When we pray deeply and truthfully, I suspect that most of us will sense, just like David, a need for forgiveness, a desire to be made clean, to hear the joy and gladness that are hidden by our sin – by the things we have done wrong. 

Here, in this Psalm, we hear that David already realises that real forgiveness can only happen when we know and accept God’s love and mercy. We cannot look at ourselves and the things we have done, unless we look at ourselves through the loving eyes of God. We can only really know our sins, if we know God’s forgiveness.

In our Gospel reading this morning, we hear that Jesus takes that even a step further. The passage we hear this morning is directly followed by the parable of the Lost Son. In Jesus, forgiveness is a given: God gives, even before we ask: God is waiting for us, not to fall down on our knees, but to accept and to live in his love.

It is precisely that knowledge and understanding that makes David one of the great Kings of Israel. Not his heroic deeds define him, but a true knowledge of his dependence on God, and his prayer to live out God’s purpose for his life. In the eleventh verse of this Psalm, David pleads with God not to be cast away from His presence: ‘do not take your holy spirit from me’. I find those words incredibly moving: please God, do not give up on me entirely.

That prayer brings us back to today. Both our late Queen and our new King expressed their belief that it is God’s purpose for them to serve their people: it is not a choice, but a commission. The choice does not lie in whether or not to take up this office, but the choice lies in how to fulfil it. Precisely this is one of the most criticised aspects of any hereditary monarchy, but to me it manifests one of the most important truths of the Christian faith: namely, that we are chosen. Not only some of us, but all of us, we are chosen and have been given a purpose.

Despite our imperfections, our frailty and our limitations, each of us has been given a purpose, which is not ours to choose. Our choice lies in how we live that purpose, and one aspect of that is what we do when we know we’ve done wrong. Do we look away, or turn away? Or do we acknowledge and accept? Do we dare to pray and believe that God’s spirit will not be taken from us, even when we have fallen short and are guilty of what we have done? Do we dare to not only accept the consequences, but also God’s forgiveness, even when others cannot forgive us?

As in the coming week we remember our late Queen, we pray that we may do so with great gratitude for the example she set before us. Not because of her heroic acts, or her perfect life, but because she was faithful to her calling throughout her life. Because she showed us an example of true commitment to her God-given purpose, and we pray that we may have the wisdom and the courage to do the same. Amen.

Peace be with us?

Sermon Holy Trinity Church Hurstpierpoint 14 August 2022: Trinity 9
Hebrews 11.29-12.2 & Luke 12.49-56

There are many aspects of my ministry that I really enjoy, but preaching is certainly one of my favourite things. Actually, it is not the preaching itself that I particularly like, but I love preparing a sermon. Because it is a way to really engage with Scripture, and trying to listen to what God is saying in this place, at this time. Often, I discover something new about God myself, something that I didn’t know before, or something that I suddenly know on a deeper level.

And especially this week, I was really looking forward to writing a sermon. Firstly, because I could return to a reasonable length sermon, after having been told to preach for at least an hour when I was in Zambia a few weeks ago. But also, because I had just returned from a retreat in North Wales, spending a week with the Jesuit community at St Beuno’s. In their spirituality, rooted in the teachings and practice of Ignatius of Loyola, the personal encounter with Jesus is central. And, as one of the brothers said on the last day, the hope is that this encounter makes us a little more open, a little kinder and a little gentler.

So with great expectation I turned to today’s readings, to see where I would find this gentle and loving image of Jesus. Well, the Lectionary clearly wasn’t on my side this week … There is a lot to say about today’s readings, but we don’t see the image of the Good Shepherd or the little baby Jesus readily appearing. Today’s readings speak about judgement, conflict and persecution. For many of us, they are challenging our Sunday-school image of who Jesus is. But it is good to be challenged, so let’s see what these passages may have to say to us in this place at this time.

I’d like to start with the letter to the Hebrews. We continue today where we left last week, with a series of examples of people and peoples who achieved things through their faith. However, what they achieved through their faith, we may not particularly aspire to in the 21st century: the destruction of cities, victories over foreign armies, and let alone the sacrifice of a child. The crucial verse to understand this is the opening verse of Chapter 12: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” 

This verse explains that yes, we should indeed take courage from all that God has done in the lives of our ancestors. However, it also points out that we need to run the race that is set before us. Our challenges are different from those of which we hear in our reading. One of the greatest differences between us and the people Israel, is that we trust in the universality of God’s love in Jesus. No longer is there a distinction between God’s chosen race and those who are outside, there is no longer an us and them in the same way. Indeed, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians we read that there is neither Jew nor Greek, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

But wait, Jesus doesn’t particularly speak about unity in this reading from Luke’s Gospel either. On the contrary, he says that he has not come to bring peace, but rather division. And indeed, one way in which this reading has been explained is that there is now again a division between people: some Christian traditions maintain that there are people chosen by God, and others not. Other Christian traditions strongly emphasise the division is between those who have confessed a believe in Jesus, and those who have not. 

I find both explanations at odds with what I believe about God, both on a theological level, but also much deeper. Indeed, one of the reasons is mentioned in this very passage: the division of the household. My parents are not churchgoers and have never been. Because of their upbringing and personal experiences, they feel that the church has very little credibility. But yet, I don’t believe that they are fundamentally different from who I am: they are as much human beings, created in God’s image and love, trying to make sense of what they believe and who they are.

So where is the division? When we look closer to the text, Jesus says, I have not come to bring peace to the earth. The Greek word for earth here can also be translated as land. So one way of understanding this passage is that this is not a prophecy, but a reality: the division between faiths, understandings of God, and understandings of our humanity is real, and the Christian faith – a belief in Jesus – is a part of those divisions. It is indeed one of the reasons people use for turning away from religions: the divisions and conflict they have caused in human history.

And it is not just between religions, or between those of faith and those without that divisions exist. Anyone who has seen any news about the recent Lambeth Conference knows that also within Christianity, even within the Anglican Communion, divisions run deep. Maybe that is the division of which Jesus is speaking: a very human division. That means that the peace he is speaking of here, is also a human peace – a peace on earth – he is not referring to God’s everlasting peace: the peace for which we long, the peace we share in our service a little later, and the peace we see glimpses of in prayer, service and worship.

So when we see these divisions amongst ourselves, we should not attribute them to Jesus, but rather accept our inability to understand and to know fully. Ultimately, it is not Jesus who is the cause of these conflicts, but we are. Through our limited understanding shaped by our culture and tradition, or at times through our self-centredness, we find ourselves disagreeing painfully, sometimes with disastrous consequences. 

Maybe that is where Jesus is referring to when he calls the disciples, when he calls us, hypocrites: we can forecast the weather – and so many other things – but we cannot understand our own motives, nor how we are complicit in the conflicts and crises of our time.

One of the ways to counter our short-sightedness is to remember that we are not alone, to remind ourselves that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. We are not the first generations to experience all this, but we stand in solidarity with those who have gone before us, those in whose lives God has been at work. That gives us comfort, not to become complacent, but to know that there is hope, to know that through faith we can find the perseverance to run the race that is set before us.

One last thought on that race, I suspect that one of the things on our minds is the current drought and the alarming signs of climate change. There is no time to be complacent, and we need to change our behaviour. But, this drought itself is no reason to despair and give up: in any historic account, we read of droughts, and the terrible effects they had. We are not the first, and I trust that with the appropriate action, we won’t be the last.

So with confidence, let us run that race that is set before us, in this place at this time. Always looking to Jesus with sure and certain hope that he will be with us, and he will never let his people go. Amen.

The journey ahead

Hurstpierpoint College Senior Chapel Address 
Saturday 26 June: Leavers’ Service, John 21 9-19

Upper Sixth, it is good to see you here together once more in Chapel to mark the end of your time here at Hurst. For some of you, this is the end of two years of Sixth Form; others of you started here in Shell, and some of you have been here since you can remember in Pre Prep. No matter how long you have been here, today, you all finish together. After a year that none of us have experienced before.

It was certainly a challenging year, and not what any of us had hoped or expected. But you rose to the challenge. You continued to learn, even if we could not be in the classroom; you continued to look out for each other, to make friendships, even though we had to be in bubbles; you continued on the sports fields, without being able to tackle or pick up a hockey ball; the choir continued to sing, and you produced a house-film, an end-of year production, even without an audience to cheer you on. 

There may have been a lot of things you haven’t been able to do, but when you think about it, there has been so much you have done, you have learned and experienced. In Mr Schofield’s language, not only have you ended up with a bucket full of data, your bucket is also full of experience far beyond tests and data. 

Today, you are leaving this place, not only with a bucket full of data, a goodie bag full of gifts, but hopefully also with a sense of who you are and who you want to become. A sense of purpose that will guide you through your life, shape the decisions you will make and will determine what difference you will make to those around you.

As you leave school, no longer will you have to do what is expected of you, but you will now have to set those expectations yourself. You are no longer aiming to achieve your challenge grades, but you now have the freedom to set your own challenges. That is exciting, but can be daunting at the same time.

Of course, even after you leave today, you are not on your own. Unfortunately, you cannot take Mrs Browne or your tutor with you, who were there when you needed them to be, but you will continue to meet others who will guide and help you. For many of you, not least your parents and your family. Their experiences and stories will help you to understand your own, and indeed you will add your own chapter to the story of which we are all a part. 

One of those stories we hear this morning in our reading. We hear of the encounter between Jesus and Peter after the Resurrection. Some of you may remember the context: Peter has denied Jesus three times before his Crucifixion, and like any of us who have ever betrayed a friend, feels guilty and ashamed. 

However, when they speak, there is no blame, but only understanding. There is no going back over the past, but only a looking towards the future. Three times Jesus asks Peter, ‘do you love me’, and three times Peter answers ‘yes, you know that I do’. Then Jesus says: ‘Follow me’. 

This is the start of a new beginning, a re-orientation, and Peter realises that he has found his true purpose. To do so, to find his purpose, there were three things that Peter did, and I am confident that if we do the same, we will find our purpose too. 

The first thing to do, and maybe the most important one, is never to give up on yourself. No matter how much you feel you have disappointed yourself or others, no matter the mistakes you feel you have made, there is always the chance of a new beginning. It may be hard, and you may not immediately see how, but never think it is too late, because it never is. 

The second one is to be honest to yourself. What is it you really want, what is it you really love? At the end of the day, success is not being about better than others, wealthier than others or more liked than others. 

Success is when you come home at the end of the day and you can say to yourself: I have made a difference, and I have enjoyed it. Whether that is because you have contributed to the latest scientific research, because you have given a performance in front of a great crowd, or because you picked up the shopping for your neighbour, it doesn’t matter. You have made a difference by being you.


Lastly, as I already said, you cannot do all of this on your own. So continue to listen. Not to the voices that are loudest, but to those that are most genuine. Not to the voices that tell you what to do, but to the voices of those who gently ask you ‘is this really you, is this really who you want to be?’

So, three things: never give up, be honest and listen carefully. Together with the experience and skills you have, you will be able to make a difference to those around you, a difference to the world.

On this day as you prepare to leave, it is fitting that we come together in Chapel to celebrate the Eucharist. Maybe even more so today than on any other occasion, the bread of Communion we are able to receive, is our food for the journey ahead. 

One more experience we share, like so many others you have shared in the past few years. I hope that what we share today and have shared so far will continue to nourish you, and I look forward to hearing your stories when you return.

Go and bear fruit

Holy Trinity Church Hurstpierpoint
Sunday 9 May 2021, Easter 6 and Christian Aid Sunday
Acts 10.44-48 & John 15.9-17

Today is Christian Aid Sunday, the start of Christian Aid Week. Many of you will remember receiving of giving out envelopes as part of the annual fundraising campaign. Christian Aid was founded in 1945 by British and Irish churches to help refugees following the Second World War, and have supported poor communities worldwide ever since, not just by bringing practical relief, but also by campaigning for fairness and justice.

Currently, the main focus of their work is combatting our climate crisis and its consequences, as well as trying to protect the most vulnerable in the world against the devasting effects of the global pandemic. Their work is not party-political, but shows that to be a Christian is to care about those whose plight is greatest.

That brings us straight to our readings this morning. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles, in which we hear of the universality of God’s love; and the passage from John’s Gospel, part of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, for me possibly one of the most moving parts of Scripture, so that is where I would like to start. 

The passage follows directly the reading we heard last week, in which Jesus spoke of the vine and its branches. Many scholars agree that these two readings are one unit, in which today’s passage is a commentary on what it means to be the branches of the true and living vine, what it means to abide in God’s love and how we do this. 

Jesus summons us firstly to keep his commandments: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love (…) so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” These commandments are not there for God’s sake, but for ours. 

In an increasingly secular world, more and more people are astounded that people are still willing to commit to a religion and follow the laws that come with that. Why would you voluntary submit yourself to an authority who puts restrictions on your life? The answer lies in this passage: these commandments are not limiting our freedom, but they are here to make our joy complete, to set us free; free to bear fruit.

The greatest of these commandments, we hear once more today, is to love one another, as Christ has loved us. These words too challenge a modern, secular perception of religion: that it is all about trying to appease God, that we are here in Church trying to be ‘good’ people, so that God may love us. 

No, it is exactly the other way around: God’s love comes first, and we are asked to respond in love towards one another. There is nothing we can do to deserve God’s love for us, that love has already been given; God’s love is unconditional. All that we do is a response to that unconditional love: that is what it means to abide in Him.

This idea of our response, rather than our initiative resonates throughout today’s passage from John. “You did not choose me, but I chose you” – again, it is God’s initiative, our response. When I was training for ministry, this was the text that accompanied the icon in our Chapel, and as we prepared for our ordained life, we were asked to reflect on what it meant to bear fruit that will last. “And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

Before asking ourselves that question this morning, what does it mean for us to bear lasting fruit, I would like to come back to the fact that it is Christian Aid Sunday. Therefore, before looking at ourselves, I would like to think about what this question might mean for the women in Burkina Faso, for example, who risk their lives on a daily basis just to get clean water for their families and children? God chose her, as much as he chose you or me, to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

Or how would these words be heard by the many children recently orphaned in India? How, amidst the pain, suffering and loss, do they hear God’s call? How will they be able to experience that complete joy of which we hear today?

Those are challenging questions, and I know that I am one of those people who doesn’t ask myself that question often enough. However, the only way in which we ourselves can bear fruit is by helping others to do the same. We cannot claim a life fully lived if we have forgotten those around us. We cannot claim that the global pandemic is over until everyone will be able to receive the vaccines and the treatments that are available to us. We cannot claim that we have solved the climate crisis, as long as others are still at risk of devastating droughts and floods, without access to clean water and food.

As Christians, we believe that each person is made in God’s image. That God’s unconditional love is given to each of us. “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”, as we hear in the Acts of the Apostles. “Even on the Gentiles”, those people so unlike those who were associated with a proper and good life; those people so unlike those with whom we share our lives. Even they have received that gift of the Holy Spirit, even they are appointed to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

The risk of saying all these things is that we feel guilty about what we have and what others don’t. That we feel guilty when we receive a vaccine, or when we enjoy a lovely meal or a holiday abroad. Or that we get angry at those who seem to criticise our choices. But that’s going back to the idea that we deserve, or need to earn, what we have. Instead, what we need to realise is that all that we have, has been given to us in the first place. It is our response that matters.

Being able to give, being able to share is the privilege we have, we all have. But it looks different for each of us. The women in Burkina Faso, the children in India, the people of Holy Trinity Hurstpierpoint, we have all got something to give, something to share. Our job is to find out what it is we have to give, as individuals, but also acknowledging our common humanity.

Giving is not about just putting some money in an envelope, although it can certainly be part of it. Giving may also be giving of our time and skill; giving something up so that someone else may have it. Sharing our experience and wisdom with the next generations: there are countless examples of how we can give. 

What they all have in common is that in that giving, we give something of ourselves: it makes a difference, not just to the recipient, but also to us. To go back to the image of the vine and its branches: in giving, in sharing, we allow ourselves to be pruned. Not by cutting into the living branches, but by finding out those that need to be cut for us to bear real, lasting fruit. That’s something we often only really find out when we try, when we take that step that comes at a cost. Only then can we be truly free and truly bear fruit and truly be the people God chose and made us to be.

Sheep or Shepherd?

Hurstpierpoint College Evensong
Friday 30 April
The Good Shepherd, John 10.11-16

The language and format of today’s service is a little different than many of the other Friday services we have had this year. It is taken from the Book of Common Prayer, which was finalised in its current form in 1662 and used in churches, chapels and cathedrals throughout England since. Its language can feel a bit archaic and you may find it hard to connect to these words.

But, when you think about it, there is something incredibly powerful about joining in words that have been used daily for over 350 years. Imagine just some of these occasions: the words we say and sing here today were said and sung during the years of the Great Plague in the 17th century; on the eve of the Great Fire in London; they were said and sung in 1918 at the end of the First World War, in 1945 at the end of the Second World War, and so on.

Not only were they used to mark significant moments in history, this service of Evensong has also been an opportunity to make a difference, to challenge the status quo. For example, at one such service money was raised in the 1950s for the Defence in the South African Treason Trials, in which 156 people, including Nelson Mandela, were accused of treason. This service at St Paul’s Cathedral was attended by a crowd of about 4,000 people that evening.

For us, here at Hurst, Chapel is one of the two moments of the week that we come together as a whole Senior School – albeit not physically in one place at the moment, of which we are acutely aware. It is a moment to remind ourselves of each other at the end of a busy week. We are one of the few schools who are still able to do this: to come together as a whole community to pause and to reflect, particularly in a beautiful building as this.

One of the themes that has come through in a lot of conversations over the last few weeks is what do we still have in common? In other words, what does it mean to be diverse, inclusive, but also a community? We so often focus on our uniqueness and our differences, but we can forget how much we have in common. So, for a moment, I would like you to think what you have in common with the people sitting next to you.

The obvious thing, given our seating arrangements, is that you are in the same house. You go to the same school, and you are probably looking forward to the bank holiday weekend, waiting for this service to be over …

But there are other, far less superficial, things you have in common. You sometimes worry about whether you fit in; there are times when you feel that people don’t really like you as you are; you have said or done things that you regret; you sometimes feel really happy and you don’t know why; and you make mistakes. Those are all things that make us human beings; they make us who we are, and as you grow up you discover the difficulties and the happiness that come with that.

Growing up is not necessarily about making fewer mistakes, but about trying not to make the same mistake again and again. Having spent quite a lot of time on the tennis courts in the last few weeks, forgive me for using this as an example. When you keep hitting the ball in the net and you don’t change your stroke, nothing is going to happen and you will never win a game. However, when you do try to get it over by changing your technique, you may find that initially you start hitting it out by miles. But then, with enough practice, you manage to find the perfect serve and beat your opponent.

That still doesn’t mean you will win all your matches though. As you get better, you move up in the leagues, and your opponents get better too. No matter which sport, at which level, there is not a game without human error.

That applies to life too. As you go through life and get better, hopefully, in making good decisions, life starts throwing more difficult situations at you. When you were in the Pre-Prep, no one asked you to sit an exam; no TikTok, no Instagram, no (still illegal) parties. No one asked you to plan your time or to start thinking about decisions about your future. Relationships get more complicated as you grow up too; friendships start to change, and you start having to manage differences of opinions in new ways.

In addition, this year, we have all been thrown by the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic, which has made all these things even more complicated. Now we are starting a new phase, in which we can start doing the things we enjoy again, but we need to relearn them. We got out of the habit of living and learning together, and in some ways that is where we have missed out on some time.

That means that now is the time in which we all need to commit to living together once more. To take our individual and collective responsibility in forming happy, healthy and good relationships. In the imagery of our reading today, the story of the Good Shepherd, now is the time to stop thinking of ourselves as lost sheep, but rather to start thinking of ourselves as shepherds. It is time to look out for each other, to give something of ourselves for those around us.

I’d like to finish with a question for you to take away, to think and maybe to talk about. What makes you you, and what makes you a Hurst pupil? What are our values and how are we going to live them out? And, as soon as we know the answer, how will we help each other to be the best possible version of ourselves?

Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves over the next few weeks as we come out of lockdown ­– hopefully for the last time – and resume, but also begin anew, our life together.

Early on the first day of the week

Sermon Easter Day 2021: John 20.1-18

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb … ” So begins the Easter story in John’s Gospel: a story of new beginnings, of universal hope and the victory of light over darkness. Something most of us are desperate to hear after the year we had. And so, we may feel, this Easter also marks a new beginning for us, as we begin to be carefully hopeful that the next few months may see a return to a more normal and freer life.

But of course, the Easter story doesn’t really start at the empty tomb. It starts much earlier: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The story had started even before time began. It is the story of God and of us, of God with us. It is something that is easily forgotten if our focus is too much on what is yet to come: our story is not one of yet to come, but one that already is, rooted in all that has gone before. 

The Easter story too is not one about other people, a fairy tale, a story with a message, to which we can listen, but it is our story; we are caught up in it. The miracle of Jesus’ Resurrection, his victory of life over death, became only fully real on Easter morning, when Mary proclaimed that she had seen the risen Lord. The Easter story gains it full importance through people living in the power of Christ’s risen life.

We all are part of the Easter in the story. By who we are and how we live, like Mary, our lives show that we have seen the Lord. That life doesn’t start when restrictions are lifted, but that life has already begun. 

Some may object that we are not like Mary,  or the disciples, nor would everyone want to be. Yet, I believe that if we live our lives fully, we may be more like them, than we first thought, as Mary’s encounter on the first Easter morning is not a bad template for a life fully lived. 

The first step, bringing us back to the beginning of the story we heard this morning, is to show up: early in the morning, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. So often, making a start is the hardest part. Whether that’s when you’re going for a run, starting a new term at school, or starting a new phase of life. But when we do, we often realise too that it wasn’t as difficult as we thought.

When we’ve made that first step, the next is that we need to question what we see, more often than not admitting our lack of understanding, and our need to learn. When Mary notices the empty tomb, she is confused and anxious: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and I do not know where they have laid him.” 

And with that lack of knowledge, we need to accept our vulnerability and our grief, the pain of what we don’t have. With Mary we may find ourselves weeping and finding it hard to see through our tears. It is something many of us have felt more acutely over the past year too, it is so hard when we don’t know and don’t understand what is happening, nor what it will mean for our future.

Despite her grief and tears, Mary still hears the voice of a stranger calling her: “Woman, why are you weeping?” I hope that many of us will recognise ourselves here too. Either reaching out to someone in pain, or remembering that moment when someone reached out to us. Someone familiar, or indeed a stranger, but someone calling our name when we needed it most. 

When we hear and dare to respond to that call, at that moment everything changes. What we thought we had lost, has now been fulfilled. The Easter story is not about returning to life as it was, life as we made it for ourselves. No, it is about realising that what we were promised is already here. Not necessarily the way we expected it to be, not without pain or loss, but never alone and never completely lost.

Mary returns to the disciples and announces: “I have seen the Lord!”. So we too, we cannot and must not keep those moments of profound insight to ourselves. Because this is not just my story, or your story, but our story: we are all caught up in this together. Maybe that is one of the things that we have learned more acutely in the past year: that we depend on one another and our actions are not just our own.

So my hope and my prayer this Easter is that, with Mary, we also can say that we have seen the Lord. Not that we will see Him on the 21st June, or on whichever date we have set our hopes, but that He is here. Risen for us and present with us: from beginning to end. Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. Amen. 

Candles of Hope

Hurstpierpoint College Senior Chapel Address
Friday 29th January 2021: Candlemas, Luke 2.22-40

On 2 February, in the Church year, we celebrate the Feast of Candlemas. Traditionally, this has been the end of the Christmas season, the day that even the most persevering amongst us put away their Christmas lights – or maybe not this year. It is also the service in which we bless and give out lots of candles, as I am sure many of you who were here last year will remember. As we all know, this year is different, and we cannot be together in one place. However, I hope that most of you received a tea light from us this last week. Some of you may have already lit it, but if you haven’t, today may be a good opportunity to do so.

Why people will be lighting up their windows with torches, candles and  lamps this weekend - Bristol Live

Lighting a candle is a universal sign of comfort, and of hope. Many of us will have been into churches and lit a candle to think of someone dear to us, or to remember someone who had died. As a nation, we have also been lighting candles to remember all those caught up in the global pandemic: again, a sign of comfort and hope.

Today, I would like to extend the image of the candle as a sign of hope a little further – maybe a little too far for some of you. In our reading just now, we heard how Simeon proclaims Jesus to be one who will give light to those who sit in darkness: the image of Christ being the light of the world. That is also the image represented by our Paschal candle, which we light every year for the first time on Easter Day.

As Christians, we believe that each of us carries with us that light too, that each one of us is uniquely created and loved by God. That each of us is unique, and each of us is to be valued and celebrated as a human being, is of course not only a Christian belief: it is not even distinctively religious. I would go as far as that the belief that everyone is to be respected and celebrated it is a necessary condition for humanity to live well, and to live well together.

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Dare to hope

Address Hurstpierpoint College Senior School Chapel
8 January 2021: Feast of the Epiphany

Here we are at the start of a new year. Together as the Hurst Community, yet dispersed throughout the country. None of us had hoped to start 2021 with remote learning; none of us had hoped that the exams would be cancelled also this year; and none of us had hoped to see the fragility of our freedom and democracy pointed out so clearly in the US. You might be wondering, as I have done in the last few days, is there still something we dare to hope for this year?

The Feast of the Epiphany, the three kings or wise men, which is celebrated in the Western church on 6th January and which we celebrate today, gives a resounding ‘yes’ as the answer to the question if there are still things which we can hope for. As much as Advent, Christmas or New Year, the story of the wise men is one of hope and of new beginnings. Particularly, new beginnings in a dark and challenging time.

Let us for a moment imagine ourselves to be one of the three travellers. We actually don’t know if there were three or more, we only know that they had three gifts. But that’s an aside. What does matter though, is that they are not on their own. They have each other’s company and support. Imaging ourselves to be one of the wise men is not thinking of ourselves in the fancy dress we imagine from our nativity plays, but about getting a little bit of an appreciation of who they were, and maybe who and where we are.

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